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Israel and Gaza militant forces reached a tenuous apparent ceasefire on Monday after intense fighting over the weekend left dozens dead.
Israeli Defense Forces said four Israeli citizens were killed in rocket attacks, while Palestinian health officials said 23 Palestinians — including two pregnant women and two babies — died in the weekend’s violence.
In the worst fighting since the war in 2014 that left more than 2000 people dead, hundreds of rockets were launched toward Israel. The Israeli military, meanwhile, carried out airstrikes over the weekend, saying it targeted Hamas, the militant group controlling Gaza, as well as the group the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
But Monday morning brought a measure of relief: Palestinian officials said a ceasefire had been reached, and the Israeli Defense Forces signaled the same by lifting restrictions on civilians.
How the fighting broke out
The violence ramped up on Friday after a sniper shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers. Soon after, two Hamas fighters were killed in an Israeli bombing, and two Palestinians were reportedly killed by Israeli forces at a weekly protest along the border. From there, the violence grew, with Palestinian militants launching hundreds of rockets and Israeli forces responding with airstrikes.
The IDF said more than 600 rockets had been fired at Israel, many of which were intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Those that were not intercepted killed three civilians, left tens of thousands hunkered down in shelters, and led to school cancellations for thousands of children. The Israeli military, meanwhile, said it struck more than 300 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets.
The weekend violence resulted in the first Israeli civilian deaths since the 2014 clash. Palestinian militants used an anti-tank missile to kill an Israeli civilian who was driving his truck close to the border. The New York Times reported that another man was killed on a cigarette break, a rabbi was killed running for cover from his car, and another man was killed at a cement factory.
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As the fighting escalated, Israel ramped up its military presence near the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. The IDF said it targeted tunnel shafts, rocket launch sites, weapons factories and a site used for cyber-attacks. But it also notably carried out targeted killings of individual fighters, which it has not done in years. The IDF claims it killed a 34-year-old man named Ahmad Hamed Al-Khudary, who Israel accused of helping to fund a terrorist group. The Israeli military said the targeted killing was intended to send a message, and posted a video of the strike on Twitter.
“It’s important for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to understand the severity of the situation,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told the Times.While newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered what he dubbed “massive strikes,” Israel denied reports it caused certain Palestinian civilian deaths. According to The Guardian, the IDF claimed one of the two pregnant women who died was killed by a misfired Palestinian projectile.
President Trump, who has a cozy relationship with Netanyahu, came to Israel’s defense, writing in a series of tweets, “We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens… To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery. END the violence and work towards peace - it can happen!”
What happens now?
The halt in fighting comes just as the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins. Protests and tensions have grown in Gaza in recent weeks as Hamas has accused Israel of breaking a pledge to ease a blockade, and that tension may remain even after the ceasefire took effect early Monday morning. Hamas and Israeli leaders said there could be confrontations still to come. On Sunday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for Israel to make the blockade less severe, saying “many rounds of confrontation” were possible, according to The Guardian.
“The campaign is not over and it demands patience and sagacity,” Netanyahu said in a statement Monday. “We are prepared to continue.”
Cover: Smoke rises from an explosion after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Sunday, May 5, 2019. The Israeli military said Sunday it had responded to 450 rockets fired from Gaza with over 250 airstrikes against the besieged Palestinian enclave. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)